The Endocannabinoid System Explained

The Endocannabinoid System Explained

Published by Shelby Lavery on 17th Sep 2020

You’ve heard of the digestive system, circulatory system, and the nervous system… but have you ever heard of the endocannabinoid system? The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, is a little known bodily system that allows each and every one of us to interact with plant cannabinoids, such as CBD. So if you’ve found yourself asking the question: “What is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work?,” you’re in the right place!

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system, otherwise known as the ECS, is a biological system that was originally discovered in the early 1990s by researchers studying the cannabinoid THC. The main purpose of this system is to maintain homeostasis within the body, which is controlled by cellular communication. The ECS mainly consists of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that help regulate different bodily functions such as:

  • Gastrointestinal activity
  • Cardiovascular function
  • Pain perception
  • Bone density
  • Hormone regulation
  • Immune function
  • Inflammatory response

Key Components of the Endocannabinoid System

According to Leafly, the ECS consists of three main components:

  • Cannabinoid receptors, which are found on the surface of our cells
  • Endocannabinoids, which are small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors
  • Metabolic enzymes, which break down endocannabinoids after the body uses them

The real magic behind the endocannabinoid system is our body’s cannabinoid receptors, which sit on the surface of our cells and monitor the conditions outside of the cell. There are two major cannabinoid receptors in the human body, CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are “essential for a healthy functioning brain and are one of the most common receptors in the entire nervous system,” according to Foria Wellness. These receptors maintain control over memory, mood, motor function, and perception of pain, depending on what area of the brain they are located in. They also play a role in pregnancy, hormone production, cardiovascular health, and the digestive process. CB1 receptors “are also responsible for the psychoactive properties of cannabis when THC binds to them.” These receptors are most commonly found in the central nervous system, but they have been found in other areas of the body as well. CB2 receptors are commonly found in our immune system and the cells that comprise it. These receptors regulate our inflammatory response as well as our immune system response to pathogens.

How Does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?

According to recent studies, researchers now know that most cannabinoids, such as THC, can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but CBD is a special case. According to Healthline, “Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. But they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.” Researchers believe that CBD modifies the receptors’ ability to bind to different cannabinoids. According to Foria Wellness, CBD may be able to influence “other types of receptors, while also enhancing your natural levels of endocannabinoids by occupying certain enzymes.”

The verdict is still out on how exactly CBD affects the endocannabinoid system, but many believe that it may prevent endocannabinoids from being broken down, allowing them to have an increased effect on your body. Other researchers believe that CBD may bind to a receptor that has yet to be discovered.

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